Monday, September 24, 2018

Why did I bother?

I knew better.

I knew better, and I did it anyway.

Last week, a Facebook friend of a very conservative nature posted a graphic on Facebook. Unlike his usual postings, it wasn't even a share, it was a graphic he'd come across, downloaded, then posted. It was about Christine Blasey Ford.

If you do not know who Christine Blasey Ford is, look her up. Suffice to say, the graphic posted was not particularly complimentary, calling her an alcoholic, promiscuous and, possibly worst of all, a liberal activist. It then suggested that not only was her coming forward a desperate attempt to keep a conservative off the Supreme Court, but that Dr. Blasey Ford was looking for a book deal.

If they were making The Princess Bride today (heck, the way Hollywood is, they probably are), Vizzini might declare that the most famous blunder of all is "never get involved in a political discussion on Facebook." It's almost always a no-win situation for all. Most people have no interest in actual, informed debate about politics on Facebook. Most people just want to stake their position and fly their flag as high as possible for all like-minded people to see, and to piss off those who don't agree. The first time I saw this, I clicked in the comment box and was poised to strike, then thought better of it. It bothered me to pass it by, but it was sensible.

But two days later, based on whatever algorithms Facebook uses, it was there again, floating to the top of my news feed even though I am constantly telling Facebook I want it to sort by most recent, not what Facebook thinks is a 'Top Story' (why I have to change this every. Single. Time. I get on Facebook is beyond me). This time, I couldn't hold back.

All I wanted was an acknowledgment. What acknowledgment? This one: Dr. Blasey Ford may well be all of those things this Facebook graphic depicts her as. An alcoholic. Promiscuous. A liberal activist. Sure, maybe she's even an opportunist, hoping to catapult herself to riches and fame (though, please see this excellent post by John Pavlovitz about that). Yet, none of that precludes the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh did exactly what she says he did. Unsurprisingly, I got no admission of the sort. Instead, I got (and am still getting) the usual litany of Republican talking points, victim blaming, and straw men. In other words, pretty much what I expected. At least I haven't gotten any personal attacks. Yet. I haven't checked Facebook this morning. Meanwhile, I swear I'll stay out of it next time...


Monday, September 17, 2018

What a mess I've made

Shortly after Agent Carrie and I parted ways earlier this year, I completed a draft (a sort of second draft, maybe something like a 1-1/2 draft) of a new manuscript I was quite excited about. The problem? It was big. 426 pages big. 138,000 words big. The biggest project I'd ever done.
Now, it turns out 138,000 words isn't necessarily terrible. The Return of the King is around 131,000, or so I have read. Salem's Lot is around 150,000 and sure doesn't feel that long. Of course, one of those books was written sixty years ago, the other forty, and we're told debut novelists can't get away with long books and that people don't want long books anyway (I call bullshit on both of those, but then maybe that's why my next published book will be my first). Anyway, I knew even before I got comments back from my Trusted Readers that it needed to be cut: there were lots of redundancies, lots of duplicate scenes, lots of saying the same thing in a slightly different way. And, of course, it had to get to the point faster.

Like this, only bigger!
Normally, when I'm ready to start redrafting, I sit down with notes from my Trusted Readers, my own notes, and a printed copy of my manuscript that looks like one of Sheriff Obie's 27 eight-by-ten color glossy photographs from "Alice's Restaurant." I open the last version of the manuscript on my computer, 'Save As' the project title and date (or the project title version xx) and go to work, deleting, adding, changing. It mostly works okay, though somewhere along the line the page numbers on the screen will stop matching up with the page numbers on the printed copy, which can cause a little bit of trouble. Also, I think it sometimes leads me to not paying attention to everything: if a sentence or paragraph has escaped my critical eye, why even look at it? It's perfect, right? Maybe not.

This time, I decided to do something different. I assembled my notes and the notes of my Trusted Readers, plunked the 426 paragraphs with the circles and arrows and margin notes and paragraphs on the back down on the desk, opened a blank document on my computer and started to type. The benefit is that it's forcing me to look at each line as I type, so everything's up for consideration, not just what's been marked up, and that's a good thing. It's not quite like starting all over again, but it does make things fresher, I think.

This weekend, I ran into big trouble, though I may have had the same problem if I'd done it 'the old way.' I had two scenes separated by thirty-odd pages in the manuscript that, while not exactly the same, needed to be condensed into one in order to move the story along faster. No problem, I managed the feat, the new version works--but then I found myself with my printed manuscript divided into four--or was it five?--piles: one on the floor that's finished. One that's stuff yet to come (pp. 325-426) and two--or was it three?--that I was currently working on. On the left, page 289. On the right, p. 252--what comes next? Oh, it doesn't help that the stuff from page 290 or so has now been moved up to page 180.

I sat at my desk for about fifteen minutes yesterday morning shuffling papers back and forth. "OK, this is done, I can put that down here--wait a minute, that's not done, that's staying in, so that" It got to the point where I sat there for about a minute looking at it all and almost saying, "Fuck it" for the day and going off to mow the lawn. Eventually, I did say "Fuck it" and just started working, and it went pretty well (3500 words yesterday, wowza). Still, it was fifteen minutes of stress that I didn't need. Hopefully, it's the last day of that sort of stress on this manuscript.

Writing, editing, revising: it's an ongoing process, one that's always in revision. Maybe next time I'll figure out a better system for organizing myself so I don't get lost.

What about you? How do you keep everything straight in the revision process?


Forty years ago this weekend, the Grateful Dead played a series of what might rightly be called "historic" concerts at a tiny little theater nestled almost at the base of the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. (I say historic because I believe they were the first rock band to play there, though others have followed). For three nights, the band played before a small crowd in the desert, and by all accounts, they had a blast. Said Jerry Garcia: "Egypt was great. We were terrible!" They hoped to pay for the trip by releasing a live album, but they were, indeed, terrible. Even at their best, the Dead were unpredictable. The wheels could fall off at any moment. Here's a song from their last night, probably the best of the run and, true to form, the wheels fell off. At least twice. Have a good week!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Today's Recommended Reading

I came across this powerful piece in The Guardian last week. It is disturbing to say the least that we are staring down the same things--rampant nationalism, racism, authoritarianism--that we faced eighty-plus years ago. It disturbs me even more that the USA has gotten caught up in the same reprehensible tide. I only hope it can be resolved this time without a global war.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Breaking Bad Revisited

Back in early August, I found myself home alone for an extended weekend, due to a work requirement that coincided with a family event. Sunday afternoon found me too physically tired to mow the lawn or do much around the house, and too brain dead to write or read; I reached for the TV remote instead--and soon found myself rewatching Breaking Bad.

I know a lot of people will say, "Why rewatch some TV show when there's so much good, new programming out there?" Indeed, there are only so many hours in a day, week, month, life; why spend it watching something you've already seen, especially something that takes so much time? (Breaking Bad ran for five seasons, 62 episodes, roughly 50 minutes per episode. I hate doing math that shows how much time I've spent on something, just as I hated looking at the "Time Played" counter on my World of Warcraft characters.)  Yet I regularly seek out the comfort of previous experience when choosing my television, film and reading material. Earlier this year, I finished a re-read of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, and I'm currently re-reading It for seemingly the thousandth time. There's a good bet that, some time in the next year or so, I'll pick up either A Prayer for Owen Meany or Empire Falls again, too, even though  there are literally thousands of books I haven't read before coming out each year. Often, I'll just grab something familiar off the shelf when I'm in between new books, though sometimes I just get a real strong urge to read an old book once more (It came about in part because we watched last year's movie version, which was actually pretty good).

As a writer, there's great benefit in following those familiar paths. Watching the first few episodes of Breaking Bad, however, I found myself really viewing Walter's and Jesse's actions against the context of what those characters become as the series goes on. It's especially fascinating to see the breadcrumbs being dropped by the showrunners. One of the central questions of the show was who is the true Walter White? The mild-mannered, bumbling high school chemistry teacher, or the ruthless Heisenberg? I don't think I started asking that question until more than halfway through the series on my first run through; now, I've been looking for it since episode one, watching for clues, and I think "Walter White" may have been the mask worn by "Heisenberg" for fifty years. By the end of season two, which is where I am now, that certainly seems to be more than a slim chance.

Interestingly, I find I interact differently with books when I re-read them than I do with movies or TV. I suspect it has to do with the difference in impact images make on your brain than words, or that reading engages the mind in a different way. I will sometimes pick up something as foreshadowing, or the first appearance of a motif in the work, but for me, re-reading a book is much more like reading it for the first time than watching TV or a movie.

How about you? Do you experience TV, movies and books differently the second (or third) time around? Do  tell!B